This also tells us something about darkness. The dangers we face are not found in mistaken ideas – they are found in the negation of what is. Scripture says that our adversary was a “murderer from the beginning.” It is existence that he hates, though he does not have the power to cause anything to cease to be. It is God alone who brings us into existence and God alone who sustains all things.
And yet, we encounter darkness. I have seen two kinds of darkness (surely there are more). One is the darkness that resembles despair. I have both seen this in others and walked there myself. It is a darkness that is easy to pity and towards which mercy comes swiftly. Despair can take you to the brink and beyond, but it is not poisonous.
The second kind of darkness bears almost no similarity to the first. C.S. Lewis captured a picture of this darkness in his novel, Perelandra. There the “Unman” (Satan using a dead man’s body) pursues an opportunity to cause a second planet to “fall.” There is a great dialog in which the Unman engages Perelandra’s Eve. But it is in less grand settings that the darkness reveals itself. As the hero, Ransom, follows the Unman’s trail, he finds small acts of cruelty, a frog needlessly tortured and left to die; then another and another…. These petty acts of meanness point to a deeper darkness that is simply marked by hatred.
…He told himself that a creature of that kind [the frog] probably had very little sensation. But it did not much mend matters. It was not pity for pain that had suddenly changed the rhythm of his heart-beats. The thing was an intolerable obscenity which afflicted him with shame. It would have been better, or so he thought at that moment, for the whole universe never to have existed than for this one thing to have happened….
The energy of hatred is black. The real thing (and I’ve seen it – if you’ve strayed to the wrong places on the internet – even the ‘Orthodox’ internet – then you’ve seen it, too) is a vapid darkness that steals the breath. It cannot be engaged without staining everything it contacts. It bathes in shame and spews it forth. To acknowledge its very existence is to risk a kind of damnation (from which Christ rescues us). It is hard to imagine this darkness as having a human face, but it often does.
I understand the tragedy and the pain of despair. There are those who imagine suicide as the worst of sins, but it is as nothing in the face of the mercy of God. I do not hesitate to pray with confidence for such souls, for though the pain of their darkness was dark to them, “the darkness and the light are both alike to [God]” (Psalm 139:12).
I do not understand the second kind of darkness and do not know how to enter such a place in order to bring someone out. I believe that Christ does so, and that He knows both the path of entry and creates the way of exit. The souls who have embraced such darkness are not beyond the mercy and kindness of God ( “for He is kind to the unthankful and evil” – Luke 6:35). I believe this to be so because I trust in the kindness of God. But I do not understand it.
I believe in the goodness of God. The darkness of evil is not anything. It is not a creation of God; it has no being. It is a direction and a movement away from goodness and being. In most cases it is a stumbling and a falling away. It is only in rare instances that it becomes a willing force that pushes away all goodness and despises existence itself (not its own so much as that of others). This malevolence (literally “evil willing”) is described as a “mystery” in 2Thess. 2:7. God will destroy it.
It is because the Christian faith is about things that are and not theories and ideas, that I often resist various theologies that are grounded in concepts of justice. Though justice makes an attempt to address the problem of evil, it only compounds matters, offering little more than a theoretical need for evil to suffer yet more. Justice is used as well in an attempt to describe Christ’s atonement. But in such models, evil presents a need for balance and payment, when the true existential crisis is the need for rescue and for evil’s destruction. Humanity has no need for such justice. God has no needs.
The sound of human need is more visceral: “Who will go there to bring them home? Who will come here to deliver me?”
I am reminded again of C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra. There, the hero Ransom (whose name and work mirror Christ), discovered that his mission was not to engage the Unman in conversation. Conversations with evil grant a nobility that does not exist. Our own talk about evil with theories of balance and atonement are equally fruitless. Ransom discovered that his mission was simply to destroy the Unman. The Orthodox approach to human sin and the darkness that afflicts us is equally to the point:
Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.
In the book of Acts, it is recorded that God gave St. Paul a ministry for us: ” to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me” (26:18).
God give us light and destroy the works of darkness.
Written with prayers for the servant of God, Aaron Kimel. May his memory be eternal!